Ancient water from Northern Ontario mine may harbour ‘alien’ life – by Ivan Semeniuk (Globe and Mail – October 27, 2016)

There’s something alive down there. Or at least that’s how it looks – much like missing snacks and an emptied beer fridge can make it look like there’s an invisible brother-in-law living in your basement.

In this case, the basement is 2.4 kilometres deep in a Northern Ontario mine where scientists having been studying the mysterious reservoirs of ancient water that occasionally come bubbling up out of boreholes in the rock.

In 2013, researchers first revealed evidence that the water has been cut off from the surface for as long as 2.7 billion years. Now, they’ve taken the next crucial step, showing that the water comes with its own self-sustaining life-support system, like a space capsule that has been out of contact with Earth for eons but is still perfectly livable.

Even more tantalizing, the team reports indirect evidence that the water is inhabited by some form of life that has yet to be identified. The life would be microbial in nature, but potentially separated from life on the surface for so long that it’s practically alien, persisting in the depths of Earth’s crust with neither sunlight nor atmospheric oxygen to rely on.

The find conjures up the possibility that there are microbial communities evolving in parallel but separate domains scattered around the globe, all hidden far below the surface. And because the same sort of deep watery pockets may be present on Mars, those microbes are analogs for what may turn up on the red planet one day.

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